Google Chromecast Now Available in Canada!

You no longer have to try and get a friend or relative to pick up a Google Chromecast for you when travelling in the US any longer. Google announced today that starting today (March 19, 2014) the Chromecast device will be available in Canada for 39.00. You will be able to purchase the Chromecast through the Google Play store and at (be careful of the listing though as I saw one today for 48.00 being sold by another company). No word if Best Buy will be selling it in Canada like they do in the US. If you are not familiar with the Chromecast it is a small HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV and allows for streaming from apps like Netflix, Google Play Movies and Google Play Music to your TV.

I have been using a few of these since September and they are great little devices for the price. Not as functional as an Apple TV but if you are not a part of the Apple Ecosystem and use Android devices this may be the answer for you.

I wrote a small review of the device a while ago especially detailing what it is and what it isn’t that can be read here. One thing that has changed since I first wrote this review is that Google released a Chromecast SDK to other developers. We are starting to see other applications that can cast video, music and pictures from your mobile device to your TV using the Chromecast. One in particular AllCast works very well and Plex has opened up Chromecast support on all of their apps and not just to PlexPass subscribers . To keep track of all of the latest apps available for Chromecast I highly suggest getting the free app Cast store for the Google play store.

The basic functionality of the Chromecast hasn’t changed a lot with the release of the SDK except that you can now send content from your mobile device to the device with Chromecast enabled apps. The device and your Chromecast still have to be on the same network and you can’t use services or VPNs to get around Geo IP restrictions. You also can’t mirror devices to the Chromecast like you can do with an iPad and an Apple TV although a developer thinks he can do it using the SDK.

If you are looking for a Netflix streaming device for your primary TV or a secondary TV in your home the Chromecast is an inexpensive way to add this flexibility. I recently installed one at my parents home so that we can view HD Net5flix content over there instead of using the Nintendo Wii (non HD). By simply being on the same wireless network and having the Chromecast app and a Chromecast enabled app on your device you can start streaming to it right away. You can’t really go wrong for 39.00

Playing with a Chromecast in Canada!

March 19th, 2014 Update – Chromecast is now available in Canada for 39.00 via Google Play Store or

A couple of weeks ago on trip to the US I was able to pick up a couple Google Chromecast devices. I have been playing around with these for a about a week now and can describe what they are and what they aren’t!

s5-productheroIn late July of this year Google held an announcement regarding the Google Nexus 7 tablet refresh, Android 4.3 Release and they snuck the Google Chromecast in during the same announcement. The Google Chromecast is basically a dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port and allows you to cast (stream) video and music from your mobile device or PC to your TV. The device was announced to sell for 35.00 USD and included a free 3 months of Netflix service. The Netflix offer was quickly discontinued shortly after launch. The device was also only being made available in the US through the Google Play Store, Amazon and Best Buy. At launch the device was only able to stream movies from Google Play Movies, YouTube, Netflix and a Chrome Browser on a PC as well as music from Google Play Music. As of today these are still your only options but Google is saying that they are working with other partners.

The device sold out virtually immediately at all sources within 48 hours. Knowing I was going to be Las Vegas for Photoshop World 2013 in September, I kept an eye on Best Buy in store stock levels. On the first day I was in Vegas I saw that one of the stores in the city had just received stock so I drove the 30 minutes each way to pick a couple up!

I was too busy to play around with them that week but I did go ahead and download the Chromecast App for Android using my US Google Play Account to both my Nexus 7 and Nexus 4. I was also able to download the IOS app for my iPhone using my US iTunes account as it is not in the Canadian iTunes store.

I have played around a little with the devices and can report back to what the Chromecast is and what it isn’t.

First of all what it is. The Chromecast is a really small, light device. It is about twice the size of a USB thumb drive and plugs directly into the HDMI port of your TV. If your TV HDMI port won’t fit the dongle directly, Google provides an HDMI Extension Cable in the box. Once plugged into your TV’s HDMI port the device also needs additional power and if your TV has a USB port you can plug the Chromecast into it with the supplied USB cable or use the included AC adaptor to plug it into the wall or power bar. Once you have the device and plugged and running, you run the setup from the Google page, it will find your Chromecast, help you connect it to your Wi-Fi network and configure Chrome on your PC to use it. I had no problems doing this in Canada at all.

So what does it do? Once your Chromecast is set up, it allows you to basically use your device as a remote control to watch Netflix, YouTube or Google Play Movies from your android or IOS device directly on the TV. It does not stream the content from your device to the Chromecast, it sends a link to the Chromecast and the Chromecast connects to the content directly and then streams the video to your TV. As I stated above as of right now the only apps that this works with are Google Play Movies, YouTube and Netflix. I can confirm that this works very well with Canadian Netflix and my own Google Play Movies. It can also stream form Google Play Music but I haven’t tested it and I believe you need a Google Music account to do this which is not available in Canada yet although there are persistent rumours that it is coming soon.

There is  one case however when content can actually streamed from your PC to the Chromecast device and that is via a Google Chrome Tab that you can stream to the Chromecast itself. Your computer transcode the video and sends the stream directly to the TV. This is one of the primary reasons that I actually got the devices was to send some web content from my 14” laptop screen to my big screen TV. This does require a little horsepower on the machine though as it has to transcode video and stream it to the Chromecast.

Here’s what the Chromecast is not, especially for those living in Canada. The Chromecast is not a way to stream your own content to your TV. There is one developer who released an app that allowed you to play your own content but that was quickly shut down be Google. He is developing another app that will be released soon that will give a little more functionality to Chromecast and I am anxiously awaiting that release. I have also recently seen reports that Google is working with Plex software to make local content available via Chromecast. If this comes to pass it will make the Chromecast a little more useful to some people.

If you are thinking that you can use the Chromecast to stream US Netflix again you are mistaken. While it is possible to stream and use US Netflix with the Chromecast, you have to be pretty tech savvy and have the proper equipment and services to accomplish this. Like I stated earlier, the Chromecast doesn’t stream the content from your device it get’s a link and goes out to get the content directly. If you have a VPN or a region blocker or changer on your device or laptop you likely won’t even be able to see the Chromecast when you are connected! To be perfectly honest it would just be easier to plug an HDMI cable into your device or laptop and go directly to your TV! it can be done though and there are a few instructions in this thread over at XDA Developers on how to accomplish this including the APK required to install on your android devices if you are outside the US. In short though  you need a way of intercepting DNS packets from the Chromecast (it is hard codes for Google’s DNS servers), an Unblock US account and a router that has DD-WRT firmware installed on it. I may try to  play around with this down the road but right now for our household, it is easier to just use an HDMI cable on an old Asus Transformer Tablet and a ProXPN VPN account to access US Netflix or like my daughter, use a chrome extension like Hola and connect your laptop via HDMI to the TV!

So why did I go through the bother of getting a couple of Chromecast units for myself if they are so restrictive? Well I can report that they do work just fine with the Canadian version of Netflix once the Chromecast app is installed on your device. In addition I wanted to be able to watch some of the Google Play movies I have purchased on my large screen TV and now I can do it with the Chromecast. In fact it I will probably purchase more from Google Play Movies now that I have the devices and can watch them on my big screen TV. I also wanted them to be able to stream video from Chrome to my TV. For example I have a subscription to Kelby Training and this allows me to play the training videos on my large screen TV instead of on my desktop or laptop monitor. There is a  caveat to this though, if you want full screen on the TV, the video also has to be running full screen on the browser but you can do other things while it plays in the background. Because of their small size and light weight they are good for travel to watch Netflix on larger screen TVs. I haven’t tried using them on a typical hotel Wi-Fi set up but am planning on doing that on my next trip!

So why might you want a Chromecast for your own home? The device can be used as an inexpensive way to add Netflix, YouTube or Google Play Movies streaming to a TV that has no other set top box connected to it. Using the Netflix app as a remote on y9ur device is also a little easier for searching and starting movies as you do have access to the virtual keyboard on your device as opposed to using a TV remote and the typical onscreen keyboard. There are also some VOD movies available on YouTube that you can stream to your TV as well.

For the most part I would think that for a majority of Canadians, a Chromecast really wouldn’t be worth the trouble of getting one unless you are dedicated into setting it up for use with the US Netflix service. As I stated before, there are far easier ways of doing this than using a Chromecast, at least right now. If the talked about Plex and Google partnership comes about then there would be  one more advantage to getting one of the devices in Canada in that you could stream your own content to a TV. Until this happens I would advise that you wait a little bit longer before trying to get one.

Questions or Comments? Go ahead and post them below. I would be happy to answer any that I can!

A Year Later

It has been a year since I last posted about Roam Mobility and the options for Canadians travelling to the US. In that year I have continued to use Roam Mobility for all of my US travel needs. I have unlocked several phones and have used the service in Vegas, Kauai, Miami and New York without any issues.

The only place that I have tried it and the service hasn’t worked great is Kauai and that is due to the coverage offered by T-Mobile. On most of the island you are restricted to the older Edge or 2G technology although there was some high speed service in certain parts of Lihue. Having said this I also found that Roger’s service (partnered with AT&T) is also quite poor there. Of the other Hawaiian islands we have visited in the last year (Maui and Oahu) we were able to get full HSPA+ coverage.

My daughter used the service while on a school trip to NYC and it worked well for her and when we were in the Miami area in February I had no issues.

I have actually stopped recommending that Canadians purchase T-Mobile SIM cards in the US as you get much better value with Roam including the ability to text and call Canada at no additional charge.

To this point no Canadian Carrier has come even close to offering the savings that Roam Mobility offers. All you need is an unlocked phone or in the worst case one of their own phones.

Roam has started a referral program, so if you have found these articles to be helpful, please use the link below to save a little on your Roam SIM Card purchase and help us continue to bring articles like this to you. Thanks

Using Roam Mobility and T-Mobile While Travelling, an Update.

I recently got back from an extended trip into the US where I used my smartphones, testing the various carriers that I wrote about in  this blog post.

I was in the Hawaiian islands (Maui and Kauai) for 3 and a half weeks. I used 2 phones while travelling. I purchased a voice only travel pack from Rogers for my iPhone, 14.50 for 15 minutes of talk time to Canada or locally, with 1.00 per minute for any overage. This was done primarily for incoming calls to my existing Canadian cell phone number. For my unlocked Samsung Galaxy Nexus, I purchased a couple of plans from Roam Mobility and used T-Mobile on some days .

Before leaving, I purchased a 14 day plan with Roam Mobility via phone because I wanted it to start on a specific day and I had a small credit on my account. The plan regularly sells for 69.95 for unlimited Talk and Text, both to US numbers and to Canada and 1 GB of Data. When we arrived in Maui and I turned on my phone. I immediately got cell service for the phone but no data. After checking into our condo I was able to use Wi-Fi so everything was OK for that night. This is the only issue I ran into over my trip with Roam. The next morning I tried to contact Roam Mobility because despite several restarts of the phone I was still not getting a data connection. I tried calling 611 as per their support pages on their site and was getting a message that the number could not be dialled. I then tried the 1-800 number listed on their page and again I got the same cannot dial error message. I also got the same message when trying to dial the 1-800 number from the condo’s landline!

I got online with my laptop and used the chat feature on their website ( In my chat I explained the problem and the 611 and 1-800 number problem. I was directed to a support page that solved the problem. My phone was trying to connect to a T-Mobile APN not the Roam APN. I had to set up a new APN on my Nexus following the instructions. The procedure was actually very easy and the instructions are located here. Although the article says it is for the iPhone and iPad, it works with all phones. Setting up the APN on my phone, selecting it and restarting the phone worked perfectly. I was now getting full 4G data speeds.

To Roam Mobility’s credit they also called me several times (and had T-Mobile Tech support call me) to try and resolve the 611 and 1-800 number problems  I had in trying to contact them. Not sure if that ever was fixed as I didn’t need it again but I suspect it has something to do with Hawaii as I have seen other 1-800 numbers not work there.

For the week on Maui I had no issues with the Roam Plan and was able to use data at full speeds and even was able to tether my daughters iPod to my phone so she could do a quick Rdio music sync. After 6 days we flew over to Kauai. Now Kauai is a little technically behind and a lot of the island has poor cell phone reception. Further more there are no 3G or 4G carriers on Kauai so my phone reverted back to Edge or 2G speeds. While it was slower than service here, it was sufficient for things like email and looking things up on the web. I wouldn’t try to tether another machine or try downloading lots of things using 2G.

After my Roam Mobility plan expired I had planned on using my T-Mobile SIM for the last few days of our trip. Knowing there was no 3G on Kauai, I logged into my T-Mobile account online and changed my plan from the 3.00 per day plan to the 2.00 per day 2G only plan. I also learned a few things about T-Mobile and the way their pay by the day accounts work.

While in my T-Mobile online account page I noticed that my balance had gone down a little since the last time I checked it. I had also seen this happen before and knew I hadn’t used the phone so was confused as to what was happening.  I called T-Mobile customer support to find out  why this was happening. The rep put my on hold and looked up my account. This is one of the beefs I have about the T-Mobile online account site, you can’t see your own billing history at all! When the rep came back she informed me that my phone number had received a couple of text messages and that had activated the plan for the day, despite the fact that my SIM card was not even in my phone! If you decide to use T-Mobile pay by the day plans this is something that you should be aware of as even a SPAM text will cost you 2.00/3.00 depending on the plan you have set up!

While in Kauai my phone on T-Mobile worked fine but I did notice on some parts of the island that there was no T-Mobile service and I was roaming on AT&T. The problem with this is that while roaming there was no data service available! This was not something I noticed when I was using Roam so they may have additional roaming agreements from T-Mobile that allow roaming with AT&T. I could be wrong about this but I didn’t see it with the Roam card in my phone.

One thing I did have to call back to a client while away and on T-Mobile. Instead of using my Rogers phone (that still had about 8 minutes of time left), I used my T-Mobile phone. I then received a T-Mobile text saying my account balance was low. The 4 minute call back to Canada cost an additional 2.00 on my plan (.49 per minute).

Another thing that I used with both services was Text Plus. By signing up with Text Plus I was able to receive Text Messages from other TP users or to a Text Plus number (local Calgary phone number) so people could send me a text without incurring a charge for texting a US number if not included in their own plans.

When we decide to extend our stay for another week, I decided to purchase another weekly plan from Roam for 39.95 and again use T-Mobile for the day and a half that the Roam plan would not cover my stay. I simply logged into my Roam account, purchased the plan and away I went!

During our stay the rest of our family used our LG Tracfones that worked fine on both islands but these are not smart phones. They offer talk and text and very basic web browsing. As I stated in my previous post the phones cost 20.00 and we add 1 year service plans for 100.00 including 400 credits (which the phones also have double minutes on purchases for life) so 800 credits per year. Sending and reading text messages have .3 credits deducted from the bank and calls are 1 credit per minute deducted. Long distance is included at the same rate but you have to use a 1-800 number to dial internationally or they may cut off your phone for security reasons. This has happened to us once!

In summary here is what I spent on cell phone charges for being in the US for 3 and a half weeks and using my smart phones the same way that I would if I had been at home.

  • Rogers 14.50 CDN for 15 minutes of US to Canada Voice
  • Roam Mobility 100.00 + GST CDN for 1.5 GB of Data Service and unlimited talk and text to Canada and the US (I used about 650MB of Data)
  • T-Mobile 14.00 USD for US talk,text and data (includes 2.00 for my Long distance)

So a total of approximately 130.00 CDN for 3 and a half weeks of US travel. If I decided to do the same things with Rogers Travel Packs here is what I would have spent

  • 100 Minutes Roaming talk @ 50.00. Good for 30 days
  • 2 x 500MB 1 Month Data Passes @ 100.00. Good for 30 days
  • Unlimited sent text messages @ 50.00. Good for 30 days

The total would have been $300.00 for my trip. I may have been able to reduce this by 60.00 by purchasing the Rogers Text and Talk combo pack for 40.00 which includes only 100 roaming minutes and 100 sent text messages! But going over on the text messages could have been costly! However if you are a Rogers customer and have signed up for their free One Number Service and don’t need your Canadian phone, you could use that to check voice mails, read and reply to text messages and even make voice calls from an Internet connected laptop. I haven’t tried this from my Android tablets or phones yet so I am not sure if it would work but I am guessing that this feature may be blocked on those devices.

I did end up carrying 2 phones around with me for the entire trip but that is no big deal anyway as I would have had to do that as well if I had used one of our Tracfones.

So what will I be doing going forward? I have a conference in Las Vegas in October and will be spending 6 days there. My plan so far will be to get a 7 day Roam Mobility plan and once again the 15.00 rogers voice pack for incoming calls to my regular phone. I will also  either be unlocking my wife’s Galaxy SII phone or setting up my older Nexus S phone for her to use on T-Mobile while we are there. She can text using text + with our daughter that way. It will be interesting to see what T-Mobile’s service in Las Vegas (Roam’s Carrier) as from past experience I can say that AT&T ’s service there is awful especially if there are large conventions there! Where  I have used T-Mobile and their high speed data service available it has always been good. I may also purchase an additional Roam SIM card for the Mrs.

I will likely keep both services for the foreseeable service but will more than likely use Roam Mobility far more than the T-Mobile service. Roam gives me the ability to call back to clients, family and friends in Canada. Although it costs a little more than T-Mobile but the fact that I can call or text back without worrying about long distance charges makes sense! I will continue to use T-Mobile when I am transiting in the US (for example one day) or if I am away for 8 or 9 days and one of the Roam plan’s just doesn’t fit my requirements. Again one of Roam’s advantages is that the SIM card is good for a year from each plan purchase. T-Mobile is only good for 90 days after each top up and a card that has gone inactive cannot be re-activated. You have to go to a T-Mobile store and purchase another SIM and top up.

I hope that this information helps a few of you in saving money if you are travelling to the US and want to use a Smart Phone while there. Please leave any questions in the comments!

If you found this review helpful, Roam Mobility now offers a referral program. Help us bring more stories like this to the web and use the link for a referral below. You save 2.95 on your SIM card purchase and help us a little too!

Update for Canadians using Smartphones While Travelling in the US.

Way back in 2006, I wrote this post about getting Tracfones for travelling in the US to save big on the roaming charges that are charged by Canadian Cell phone carriers. A lot has changed since then (except the fact that you will still get gouged by your carrier for roaming) in the cell phone industry. Many of us are using Smartphones with email, maps, applications, surfing the web and posting to Facebook and social network sites while also using cell phones and texting. You don’t want to come back from a vacation or business trip where you spent enough money already to be surprised by a 200.00, 300.00 or even 500.00 bill for roaming with your smartphone. So what can you do to avoid these bills?

Well your first option is not to use the data feature on your phone. All smartphone operating systems have a way of turning off data while roaming. Your phone and texting function will work but email and other data will not. Then you can use Wi-Fi connectivity to get your email, post to Facebook etc. I would suggest keeping this feature turned on in your phone all the time to protect yourself. Phone calls and texting in the US without an appropriate plan however can still cost you a fortune!

Now there are more options than ever for you if you travel. We will try to go through what we consider some of the best ones while travelling in the US.

Your Existing Carrier

Most of the Canadian carriers offer add on travel packs for travelling in the US. I have used them from Rogers several times and I can’t speak to the specifics of the other carriers but I find the Rogers ones expensive and you usually have to buy several travel packs for your device especially if you will be gone for more than 7 days. For example for a trip to the US in the fall I had to buy a voice plan, a data plan and a text plan. It became very expensive and it was restrictive (60MB of Data good for 7 days only for 50.00, 50 text messages and 15 minutes of talk). While this could work for a short trip or if you are not planning on using your Smartphone much while you are away.

Basic Phone, Texting and Webmail

After 7 years we still use our Tracfones while travelling. I upgraded all of our phones the past February to a new LG version. This phone looks similar to a Blackberry and allows for calls, texting and some basic web surfing with a full qwerty keyboard.

To save time, I pre-purchased the new phones via and had them delivered to a store local to where I was staying (you can pay via PayPal so you don’t need a US credit card). I did it this way so I knew the phones would be there and I didn’t have to go store to store to find them (i needed 6). With the new phones we got double minutes for life and I bought some 1 year, 400 minute cards for 100.00. This gives each phone 800 minutes of talk time with the service good for a year. With Tracfone there is no long distance in the US and you can talk internationally as well but you still have to dial a 1-800 number first. You can text another US number with no issues as well but you can’t text Canadian  numbers even if those phones are in the US. There is web surfing but it is fairly basic using the web browsers on the device and you can get email via a web browser and more. This would be a fairly basic option compared to a smartphone but it is far cheaper if you need more than 1 phone in the US for example if you need 2 phones for a family.

Swapping your Sim Card

What  do you need?

Just an unlocked smartphone that uses a SIM Card. Smartphones that used to use Telus’ or Bell’s old CDMA networks will not work as they don’t use SIM cards unless they were “world phones”. You can also do this for travel to Europe and other parts of the world where buying a SIM card is very common.

All cell phones that get sold subsidized by the carriers (cheap with a contract) are carrier locked. This means that you can’t take out the SIM card and put a new one in for another carrier. This is how they protect from people buying a phone subsidized, using it for a year, then cancelling the contract and going somewhere else. You can buy unlocked phones but they usually cost big dollars (450 to 600) for the latest and greatest phones. However unlocking a cell phone is easy (except iphones but I’ll give options for that below). There are several sites across the web where you can send your IMEI number to them pay a small fee and they will send you an unlock code and instructions on how to do the unlock. Carrier unlocking your phone doesn’t do anything strange to your phone except allow you to use different carriers with the same device. iPhones have to be jailbroken to unlock and that is an issue whenever Apple issues an IOS update because you have to jailbreak your phone again after the hackers learn to do it again. has unlock codes for 16.00 and up. You can find other sites and unlockers on Ebay. I don’t think I have paid more than 8.00 to unlock previous Blackberries I have owned. So shop around.

So after unlocking your phone what happens? If you put in another SIM card for another carrier typically you will get a new phone number. All of your apps and email will work but if people want to call or text  your regular number you won’t get them until you put the original SIM card back in or check your VM or they call your new number. So why use a different SIM? Well you have your phone that will work where you are and have full access to data, local calls in most cases long distance, your existing contacts and email. In short everything on your own device with your Canadian carrier. Here are a couple of options for different SIM cards. Texting to a US number will also cost extra for a Canadian unless they have that built into their plan (I know some Rogers Value packs have this).

T-Mobile USA

T-Mobile.  After a lot of research I found that T-Mobile offered one of the best pre paid plans in the US. A sim card costs between 8 – 10 dollars and you can get prepaid cards for 10, 20, 30 or 50.00. I bought a card at a T-Mobile store in Miami with a 20.00 prepaid card when we were there in February. I was assigned a Miami number, had the pre paid applied to the account and walked out of the store in 15 minutes. With T-Mobile you have 2 choices of plans. 2.00 per day for unlimited voice (All US), texting and unlimited data (but it is 2g speeds, like Rogers Edge or Bell and Telus’ old CDMA services). For 3.00 per day you get unlimited voice, text and the first 200 MB a day of Data @ 4G speeds (HSPA+) like Rogers, Bell and Telus in your area. After you hit 200MB in one day you get throttled back to 2G speeds but still unlimited data. This way you can post and check Facebook, upload pictures, use maps etc.. Be sure to check their coverage maps before leaving to ensure that they are available where you are travelling. SIM cards are available at T-Mobile stores and some other locations (Radio Shack).

Here are a few little gotcha’s with T-Mobile

1) If your device is not on the same frequency as their network you only get 2G speeds regardless of the plan you choose. The Galaxy Nexus  is one of a few phones that offer a 5 band radio. T-Mobile uses the same frequency as Wind and Mobilicity here in Canada so if you have an unlocked phone from them it would work at the highest 4G speeds. As a result the 2.00 per day plan is what most would use.

2) Text’s to Canada and LD to Canada get deducted from your pre paid card in addition to the daily fee.

3) Daaily billing only happens when you turn on your phone. The billing cycle is 12:01AM to 11:59 PM. Turn your phone on at 10:00 PM and you are charged for the day then after midnight if the phone is on you get charged for another day.

4) You have to top up every 90 days or the SIM card will be deactivated. Minimum top up is 10.00 USD and can be done online, So it costs 40.00 per year for the number. If the SIM card is deactivated you have to get a new one as you can’t reactivate it.

5) You would have a US number and your Canadian number while the T-Mo card is in your phone wouldn’t work, people would have to call or text the US number.

6) Not sure if this works in Canada or Internationally (I haven’t tested this yet). Some reports say it will work in Canada.

7) No Blackberry BIS (or BES) Service is available, so you can’t use your Blackberry email service but you can browse via the browser to web based services.

8) Not sure if tethering other devices works (haven’t tested).

Most Canadian Smartphones would only get EDGE or 2G data speeds. You do get an online account that you can manage your plan with, purchase additional time cards. I recently had to top up to my account to keep from deactivating my sim card. I used a prepaid US Visa card (registered to A US relatives home address) . I buy one of these cards (50.00) almost every time I go to the US for services like this. Haven’t tried a Canadian credit card yet so I don’t know if they work online for purchases. You can always pick up T-Mobile pre paid cards almost anywhere (grocery stores, Wal-Mart,, convenience stores, etc.) in the US.

Roam Mobility –

Roam Mobility has been very active in their advertising lately. They are a company out of Vancouver that is reselling T-Mobile’s services to Canadians with a couple of  additional benefits for Canadians at slightly higher cost than T-Mobile’s.

First you purchase a SIM card from Roam either online or at Pipestone travel stores here in Calgary  The SIM card costs 19.95.

You activate the card online and pick and purchase a plan. Your US number is only assigned once you turn on your phone in the US. They do have several options for text, talk and data

1 day for 7.95 + 100mb data

3 days 18.95 + 200MB of Data

7 days 39.95 + 500 MB of Data

14 Days 69.95 + 1 GB of Data

30 Days 99.95 + 2 GB of Data

All plans include unlimited texting and calling back to Canada, this is one of the advantages they have over T-Mobile.

Because they are reselling T-Mobile’s services they have some of  the same gotchas as above in regards to phones and data speeds. In a chat with them while I was writing this they say if your phone supports tethering you will be able to do it, but it could use up your data quickly. Once you activate a SIM though it is good for 1 year and you only have to activate 1 top up per year. Plans expire 30 days after purchase. Once you use up your data you have to buy another combination plan. I have a 6GB data plan here in Canada and I rarely use more than 1 GB of Data per month but I do use Wi-Fi most of the time..

They do offer voice and text only services though at 2.95, 8.95, 20.95, 34.95 and 59.95 for the same periods as above.

There is a solution for iPhone owners and data only services that don’t want to Jailbreak their phones! This solution is also ideal for connectivity for Wi-Fi enabled devices like Tablets, Portable games and laptops.

You can purchase a Mobile Hotspot device from Roam (Liberty Mobile Hotspot) for 129.95 with a SIM card. This is a small device with a rechargeable battery that connects data only to the T-Mobile Network. You then buy a Data Only package from Roam and activate the device. The device gives you a portable (pocket able) Wi-Fi hotspot that you can connect iPhones, Laptops, Tablets and Game machines to. Data only pricing is not priced too badly compared to Canadian Carriers roaming prices. You can also purchase data only with a Sim Card for a Jailbroken iPad or Unlocked Android Tablet.

500MB – 29.95

1000MB – 39.95

2 GB – 59.95

5 GB – 99.95

Data plans are good for 30 days from date of purchase.

The only disadvantage to this service is everyone has to be reasonably close to the Wi-fi hotspot to get a signal (30 feet) and you have to carry the device around. The advantage is multiple devices, fastest speeds and multiple people can share the same data. Note text won’t work with this option nor would voice unless you used SKYPE and texting services like text+

You can do the same with Virgin Mobile in the US but their Hot Spot Modem is 150.00 and 1 month of unlimited Data is 50.00

Update January 2013
Here is an update for Roam Mobility as of January 11th 2013. Most of Roam’s products are available in Calgary at Pipestone Travel Stores. You can pick up a Sim Card or if you don’t have an unlocked phone they are selling their Breeze model with a Roam Sim for 49.95. This is not a smart phone but it does feature a qwerty keyboard for texting..
Some of their plan pricing has also gone up a few dollars but for the Talk Text and Data plans that comes with a corresponding jump in data caps.
In addition T-Mobile has been updating their networks in the US and so some phones that support the 1900Mhz band (iPhone, Nexus S) will no longer be dropped down to edge speeds in certain areas. Most major US Cities have or are in the process of being upgraded with the new HPSA+ service.


I have a family vacation planned this summer in the US. I will be using a combination of Roam Mobility and T-Mobile while I am there to compare the two options. I will be carrying 2 phones with me. I will have my Galaxy Nexus that will be connected to T-Mobile for part of the trip and my iPhone with my Rogers sim in it and a 15.00 Voice Roaming plan. Data while roaming will be turned off (although I will use it with Wi-Fi). I plan on using it just to be able to accept calls on my  regular cell phone number.

If you need access to your Canadian number you can do a couple of things. Use an old cell phone that is locked to your existing Canadian Carrier, or pick up a used phone on your carrier or an unlocked one form Craigslist or Kijiji. All you may need this for is Voice and receiving texts.

I will report back after my trip on how my experiment worked. I sent an email to the rest of my family earlier this week so that they also knew the options and I will update how we coped.

If you liked this review or found it helpful. Roam Mobility offers a referral program where you save 2.95 on the purchase of your SIM card. Please use the following link and support this blog so we can bring you more stories like this!


Roku in Canada! A Mini Review

There is another player that just joined the web video to TV game in Canada. Roku, a company that has been around in the US for quite some time, came through on their announcement from the fall and started selling their set top boxes in Canada April 30th, 2012. They join the Apple TV, Xbox360, PS3, LG, Boxee as well as several TV manufactures that offer Internet connected TVs and devices.

This is not going to be a detailed technical review, because their products have been available for some time and there are reviews easily findable all over the web. This review will give a brief description of what boxes are available in Canada and the differences in how they work over their US counterparts.


Roku has so far partnered with 3 resellers in Canada. The devices can be purchased from, London Drugs and Wal-Mart. Two models are available here. The Roku 2 XS for 109.99 and the Roku 2 XD for 89.99. Both stream 1080P video to your TV, connect via Wi-Fi to your home network and feature a Micro SD slot for additional storage. The XS however comes with a few added features. It has an Ethernet port to hard wire the device to your connection, a USB port so that you can play media from USB devices (flash or external hard drives) and a special RF Remote that can be used to play games (a full version of Angry Birds is included).

I pre-ordered the Roku 2 XS from Wal-Mart and it showed up in my mailbox on April 30th. I was surprised that the box itself was tiny (about half the size of one of the new Apple TVs and about the same size as a hockey puck) and setting it up was a breeze. I plugged in an HDMI cable, plugged in an Ethernet cable then plugged in the AC adaptor. The box turned itself  on and updated itself to the latest software. Next I was prompted to create a Roku Account on their website and link my box via the code on the screen to my account. When creating the Roku account you do have to add a payment method. You are not charged anything and this is to be used to purchase premium channels. The payment method can be a credit card or a PayPal account. Next I visited the channel store from the device and it added some base channels to the box, including Netflix, the Angry Birds game, the USB player and a few more.

On your TV screen you will see the installed channels from on your Roku device and you can scroll side to side to see all of the channels. To use one you just click the OK button. Pressing the back button takes you back to the previous screen and the home button returns you to the main menu. There are 4 arrow keys for most of the navigation. I fired up the Netflix Channel signed in with my account and away I went!

Like I said they do have a Channel Store on the device and many of the apps are free. Unfortunately there are not nearly as many channels available in Canada as there are in the US. I saw about 80 channels in Canada while the US store features approximately 300. In addition the US has services like Hulu and Hulu Plus, HBO Go and Amazon on Demand so the box could be used as a cord cutters only device. Hopefully Roku will continue to negotiate with Canadian TV and content providers and we will see more channels available.

Another disappointment is that there is no YouTube Channel! While we have a YouTube app on our Apple TV and Blu-Ray player (that doesn’t get used) it is still disappointing not to see it as an option (although there is a workaround, see below).

I have watched a few movies on Netflix and the streaming quality is about the same as it is with the Apple TV on our Pioneer 720P TV. The first day I also watched a movie on the Crackle Channel and video quality was very good and there was no pauses in the streaming.

Other content… One way of getting to see other content on a Roku device is to install the Plex channel and then install the Plex Media Server on a network connected PC in your home. This gives you the ability to add additional content (including YouTube) to the Roku using the PC as an intermediary as well as stream iTunes music and Podcasts to the Roku box. Going through the setup for this would make this post too long so I will create another post in the next couple of days describing the process.

Using the special remote bundled with the Roku 2 XS you can play games like Angry Birds on your big screen TV. The remote works very much like a Wii remote and the game play was fairly smooth. There are some other games available on the Roku Channel that you can purchase but I have not tried any yet.

Final thoughts

So far in the testing I have done over the last few days, I like the Roku box. I am still not sure if it will replace the Apple TV that is connected to our primary HD TV. I can watch everything that I would like to in the Roku box including some of my iTunes stuff using the Plex Media Server and the Plex Channel. Should you get a Roku box? Well that would depend on your viewing preferences.

If you are invested in the iTunes world I would suggest instead going with an Apple TV. With the latest Apple TV you can rent and purchase movies from iTunes, Watch purchased TV shows listen to music and if you have an iPad, iPhone or even an Android device with DoubleTwist Air Sync, watch content from those devices on it. Apple TV also features Netflix, MLB and NHL Networks (as does Roku) for streaming. If you purchase movies with Digital copies included you can also watch these via the Apple TV.

If you have a game console (Xbox 360 or PS3) you can do virtually everything that you can do on the Roku on one of those machines. The Roku is much quieter though especially compared to early PS3s and the white Xbox 360s, but you can’t play the games on the Roku. The Roku however is significantly cheaper and you don’t need an Xbox Live account or PSN account to watch Netflix. Over the last couple of years I have been able to pick up the new black version of the Xbox 360 4GB console for 129.00 over boxing week. You also have to add the Xbox Gold account (60,00 per year or 99.00 for a Family account) in order to use Netflix.

If you are looking at adding a web streaming device to your main TV or to an additional TV and you don’t have any other devices  then you may really want to consider a Roku 2 box. If you have a game console or DVD Player with Netflix I would probably pass on it.

What really hurts the Roku in Canada is the lack of channels and content. Without HBO 2 Go, Hulu and Hulu Plus and Amazon Video on Demand out of the box the Roku can only do what some of the other devices can do. However if you are willing to play a little and set up Plex (an upcoming  post) the little box can do a lot! Hopefully Roku will continue working to get more Canadian services (not that there are a lot) signed and on the device and this little box can have potential.

I haven’t decide yet if we will be replacing the Apple TV with the Roku box yet. I am awaiting for more testing from my family that uses Netflix and other services a lot more than I do to voice their opinions. After they compare quality the quality between the two boxes one will stay and one will be moved to another TV (likely my office).


Some of the Channels I have installed

Smugmug, Flickr, CNet TV,, Revision 3, Plex, Tunein Radio, Rdio, MLS Live, Pub-D-Hub, Moonlight Movies, Crackle, Nasa TV, CNBC, Vimeo, Facebook (photo and Videos).

Revisiting my Backup Strategy

I just got back from picking up the results of an expensive data recovery job from a client’s failed hard drive. It reminded me that I hadn’t updated my own backup strategy in a while. I recently changed it after learning a few valuable lessons and being very lucky after a device failure.

Below is a comment I left on a photography podcast that I listened to recently. It describes the work flow I am currently using. While it deals with my image back ups, I do cover off other files.

After a few months of using this workflow, I can’t say enough about the Bestsync Software mentioned. It is available at I have also added another tool recently. I am using Sugar Sync to do some offline folder backups as well. This seems to work very well and I can choose what ever folders that I want to backup. You can download and get 5 Free Gigabytes of online storage. In addition using this link you will get an additional 500 MB of free space as well as giving me an additional 500 MB!

I am still using Dropbox as well and they have also just boosted the free amount of online storage you can get. Again sign up and install using this link and we both get bonus space free.

Use both links above and you will get 8GB of free online storage!

Posted on

I feel your pain. As a small business IT Consultant I deal with the Data Recovery companies and failed hard drives every couple of months. As a photographer I have also been burned either by not being ready or the “I’ll do it later” syndrome.
A couple of things to note. RAID is not the only answer. Yes they are redundant but they can fail too. I have experienced failures with Drobo’s and other RAID devices as well.
I have developed my own back up system that works pretty well keeping in mind that if the system is not automated, it will not get done.
In our home I have all of the PC’s connected to a first Gen Windows Home Sever so my kids and wife’s system all get automatically backed up nightly to that box (not an answer for catastrophe though).
For myself I use the following.
When I bring images in I use Lightroom to import and copy all of my images to a folder on my E-Sata connected Drobo S (5 x 1TB hard drives). My Lightroom catalog files also reside in one folder on the Drobo including the Lightroom backup files. All files are Canon CR2 Raw.
Nightly I have a program running on my system called Bestsync 2012 that synchronizes the Lightroom catalogs and the image files from the Drobo folders to a Mediasonic Raid 1 enclosure connected via USB 3 with 2 x 2TB Drives. I also have Best Sync set up to synchronize the Mediasonic backups to one of 2 USB External USB drives when the are plugged in to the system as well as on a nightly schedule. Every couple of weeks I swap these drives and take them to my parents house where I connect to them to a Pogoplug so I can access them across the net in case there is any need.
The stuff I show off and want to share with family and friends I put up in galleries at Smugmug (power user account). I have unlimited Storage there and they take large high quality jpg files plus I like their galleries.
I chose Best Sync because it wasn’t that expensive, Pro License was 38.00 USD and it offered VSS (Volume Shadow Service) so that open files are synced in case I am still working on them or left Lightroom open accidentally. You can set up tasks to do almost anything you need and have multiple different tasks and different destinations going at different schedules. For example I sync Music files to my home server as well as Outlook PST files and Quicken files. In addition BestSync offers compression, encryption and a backup vault for files that get deleted on the source folder. These are backed up from the target folder before being deleted there in case the deletion was accidental.
I also use Windows Live Mesh to sync some business documents to the cloud and some smaller stuff I use Dropbox and
Best Sync was the way I decided to go in October after coming down one morning to find my Drobo reporting as a RAW drive (talk about heart failure). I used Zero Assumption Recovery to get all the data off that drive (it took about 60 hours) reformatted the Drobo and it has been solid since and even correctly reported (and protected data) from 2 failed hard drives in a 2 week span (all from the same batch at Seagate). Although I am not completely sold on the Drobo any more and may look for another Raid 5 solution.
Another free program you can use is Microsoft’s Sync toy. It can be scheduled to run as a scheduled task as well but doesn’t support VSS. But it can mirror or sync from one drive to another.
One additional thing I was going to start doing at the cost of some additional storage space was to save Lightroom adjustments as XMP sidecar files. Doing this would allow them to be reimported into a fresh copy of Lightroom with all of the adjustments made available.
For travel I store images on a laptop hard drive, then to 2 external hard drives and then to a hyperdrive UDMA color drive. I also try to avoid deleting images off of CF cards until I return home and transfer all of my images from my laptop into my backup system via a Lightroom Catalog export from the laptop.
There are some great new appliances coming out in the next little while as well built on Windows Storage Server Essentials that will allow for NAS and client backup. I saw one from Western Digital back in October that looked very promising.
While my backup system may sound confusing it is all accomplished by the Best Sync Software. I have found it very flexible and I can tailor it for all of my own uses.
Stephen Kennedy
Calgary, Ab, Canada

Shoot the Skies!

A little photography tip here to start the year. Sometimes we get some really great shots, the only problem with some of these shots is that the sky in the background can be very dull. A blue sky with no clouds or a dull grey overcast sky can change the look of the photo. If you are not shooting editorial or historical images why not consider replacing that dull sky.

When carrying your camera around look for interesting skies you can shoot. These are the images that you can use to replace the skies in your dull or boring photos.

Here in Calgary we live in big sky country! With very little humidity in the summer, we often get blue skies that stretch across the sky from horizon to horizon with no clouds at all. Really kind of dull. When I see a nice interesting sky with big fluffy clouds I will, often shoot shots of the skies and clouds with all of my camera bodies with different lenses and focal lengths. I also look to shoot dark and stormy skies. I shoot anything that I think I might use later in another image. These are then collected in a folder called skies. If I end up taking a photo with a boring sky I can replace those skies with something more interesting in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. This can greatly improve the look of the final image.

Some people will say that this is cheating, but as I said earlier unless you are shooting editorial or historical photos, why not create the image that you like.

I am really looking for spending a few days in Florida in February and shooting some skies there.

So go out and shoot some skies for your collection!

A New Beginning

A strange title for a blog post and there is meaning, in fact two meanings behind this.

Firstly, it has been a really long time since I wrote anything on this blog. In fact I it was July 2010! That will all change in the next little while as I am dedicating myself to try and post more and also do a re-design of my entire web site (an awful 90’s looking site) and the blog. Look for a lot of posts on gadgets as well as some on photography (my second passion).

Secondly, a major change has occurred in my life! It has been almost a month since I got the call late on a Wednesday night!

Back in November I had booked off the morning (from my full time gig) of a Wednesday to attend an Intel Presentation here in Calgary. After the session I worked the remainder of the day from home. Late in the afternoon I sent my boss an email indicating that I wanted to work from home the next day as well as we had to arrange some shifting to pick up the kids and to get to my girls soccer team’s game that night. I got a frantic call at around 10:30 PM while I was at a client site from my boss that I had to be in the next morning as it was very important. I knew what was coming.

I got home that evening and my wife asked if I had spoken to my boss and what was up. I told her I had to be in the next morning and that I guessed that I was losing my job.

As soon as I got into the office that Thursday I was asked to come into my bosses office! On the walk I muttered here it comes. I have to say he took it really well! I was informed that due to a restructure nationally, my position was being eliminated and since there was no position suitable to my talents I was being put on income protection! I almost cheered when I heard it! I met with a rep from a Career Transition Service Company, dismissed the grief counsellor that was on hand in case I reacted badly, had a short chat with my boss, packed up my belongs, called for a ride home and quietly left the office. It is funny that I had visualized the scenario the night before and I stuck to my script! Apparently this was all to happen Wednesday but my boss forgot to check the vacation calendar and did a Doh when I sent him an email reminder the Wednesday morning that I wouldn’t be in that morning!

Sounds strange doesn’t it? I have just lost my job and I was happy? I had been with the company for just almost 20 years (just short of 19.5 years actually). The last 15 years had been in the IT side of the company. For the last several years however I was really bored with what I was doing. I often complained to my old boss that had retired in July that there just wasn’t enough work for me and my team! When I was moved into the position back in 2002 I indicated that this would some day happen as I didn’t see the job being relevant back then!

I have received a what I consider a very fair package (I will get a lawyer to review it soon) and it gives me lots of freedom over the next little while. I can try to find a job that I would enjoy or I can decide to get really serious about my business and build up the clientele there! I have a Career Transition Group that I have been assigned to for help with getting back into the work force!

With the Christmas season right around the corner though I have decided to spend more time with my family and relax a bit. We have started doing things that we have put off for 10 years because I have the time (although we have slacked off in the last week doing that) and I will start the new job search in earnest in the New Year. I even plan on building a photography and video studio in my basement and getting my office space cleaned up!

So when I say it is a new beginning for me it truly is! Look for more posts here on all kinds of cool toys and gadgets as well as some tips and posts for friends and clients on photography!

Take care and a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year to all my family friends and clients!

Apple Announces iPhone 4, Coming to Canada in July!

Today at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Steve Jobs took to the stage to deliver the keynote address. To no one’s surprise the new iPhone 4 was announced!

Jobs claimed that there were over 100 new features of the phone but he went over just 8. The new phone is a thinner phone than the iPhone 3GS and  has a much larger battery. It also features a front facing camera that can be used in a new Wi-Fi, iPhone to iPhone only video chat application called FaceTime. They have added an led flash to the camera and the ability to record 720p, 30FPS HD video. In addition a new application will be available for purchase called iMovie for iPhone, allows you to edit and produce video directly from the phone including adding titles and transitions. iMovie will sell for 4.99. The camera resolution has been bumped to 5MP and has a new backside illumination sensor that is supposed to allow for less noise in low light photos.

The screen resolution has been much improved using a technology called retina display that provides 326 pixels per inch. The screen resolution is 960 x 640. Reports from people who have seen the displays are saying it is incredible and has to be seen to be understood.

They have added a gyroscope to the phone and linked it in with the radios so motion control gaming should be better.

The stainless steel frame around the phone has been turned into the antenna and the phone

Several of the announcements made also included some of the previously announced iPhone 4 software which has now been renamed iOS 4.

iBooks is being updated and ported to the iPhone and will now allow to read PDF documents in that app directly on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch and will support wireless purchasing and syncing between devices (unfortunately no word on when books will be available in Canada).

The phone is being released in the US and select other countries on June 24th and the new iPhone OS that offers multitasking is being made available free on June 21st. iOS 4 offers the ability to create folders on the home screens, offers multitasking on newer devices and more. For a change iPod touch owners will also get the upgrade free instead of having to purchase it. No exact date was given for the phone release in Canada other than July 2010. It was not confirmed whether Canadians will have to wait for iOS 4 until July either or whether we will be able to download it on the 21st as well.

Apple has also announced their own cases for the phone called Bumpers and available in a variety of colours.

To learn more about the phone follow this link to the Apple Site or for the tech specs click here.

With this announcement today I may finally breakdown and get myself an iPhone! I started to consider it when iOS 4 was originally announced as it had some of the features that I was waiting for in the iPhone, such as the ability to connect a Bluetooth keyboard and multitasking. One thing I am concerned with though is whether or not Rogers will offer a good data plan with the phone. While I do qualify for an upgrade from Rogers, I also have a year left in my 6GB data plan contract that is at a very good price (30.00). For the last week I have stopped using my Blackberry Bold 9000 and have switched to a Google Nexus One Android based phone. I am awaiting the announced 2.2 FroYo upgrade for this phone as it offers many desirable features and this phone already does do many of the things that an iPhone doesn’t yet (multitasking). I am still getting used to the new device and will have more to write about it later.

One thing to note as well is that the new iPhone uses the new Micro SIM card that is also currently in the iPad 3G. It will be interesting to see if Rogers will let me get a new Micro SIM card for an iPhone and keep my old sim card active so that I can use the iPhone, Nexus One or my Blackberry (not of course not at the same time).

Watch this space for more information as I will soon be writing about my thoughts with the Nexus One as well.